Friday, 25 September 2020

corde, ore et nutibus

While we won’t be deferring to Urban Dictionary’s contemporary definition, we did find it an amusing correspondence between modern portmanteau and an eighteenth century classicist terminology. Antiquated and obsolete as it is nutual does seem like a useful word that would retain its niche in the language signifying something expressed by gesture alone and was borrowed, introduced to English to translate the above Latin phrase said of prayers, made by heart, voice and genuflection.

volenti non fit injuria

Via Slashdot, we are referred to the testimony of a former Facebook manager who baldly admits that the company took its cues from the business model and public relations campaign that Big Tobacco waged for decades to rebuff critics and make their addictive product more palatable at a congressional hearing.

Not mincing words, the ex-director of monetisation continued the analogy of growth at any cost—including the privileging of status and on-line reputation that drives ever more extreme content and hollows out any parasympathetic—human inclinations in favour of an insidious tribalism that’s antithetical to dialogue or consensus. We’ve been here before of course but the frankness and urgency are refreshing, though it might make those who regard this criminal enterprise in a favourable light grow further entrenched rather than simply walk away. Far worse than individual harm or second-hand smoke, the drive for engagement—framed as a proxy for user-satisfaction without respect to said-user’s motivation—has brought the US and the world to the breaking point, fomenting violence and unrest for followers.


Prolific inventor and Esperanto advocate Leonardo Torres y Quevedo (*1852 – †1936), probably best remembered for his Aerocar that is still in use for ferrying passengers above Niagara Falls, was responsible for a whole string of innovations across several disciplines including an analytic machine in the style of Babbage’s difference engine though utilising electromagnetic components rather than mechanical ones, improved designed for dirigibles, a chess-playing automaton (El Ajedrecista) and perhaps most significantly was a pioneer in the field of remote control. On this day in 1906 in the port of Bilbao in front of a royal audience and many other spectators, Torres-Quevedo made a public demonstration of his experimental radio-controlled robot—called Telekino—in the form of a boat that he guided from shore. King Alphonso XIII also was given a turn guiding the boat with passengers at distance.

Thursday, 24 September 2020


The unique monotypic gymnosperm Welwitschia mirabilis, native to the deserts of Namibia and Angola was first taxonomically described according to European conventions by its namesake botanist Doktor Friedrich Welwitsch (*1806 – †1874, also credited with the discovery of the Rhipsalis baccifera, the only cactus that naturally occurs outside of the Americas).
Also going by the Afrikaans designation above meaning two-leaves-cannot-die, most of the plant is underground in the form of a taproot like trunk and sprouting a pair of leaves that branch off into smaller clusters and can thrive for millennia. Believed to be the missing link between coniferous plants and the true flowering variety (angiosperm), Weltwitschia are postulated to be the first to rely on insects for pollination and have become a national symbol, featured on the compartment of the coat of arms of Namibia along with the country’s motto.

subtype h1n1

Via Miss Cellania’s Links, we are directed to a retrospective article that speaks to the halo effect and hindsight bias that we explored recently through the heuristic of 1976 Swine Flu outbreak and subsequent fiasco that shows how important robust journalism and science communication and accounts for what preconceptions might inform decisions and direction. The close dissection of this immunisation campaign, which saw about a quarter of the US population vaccinated, buffeted by particularly lethal seasonal outbreaks and a deadly cluster of Legionnaire’s Disease (first thought to be the uncontrolled spread people were fraught over) earlier that same summer had primed the public and health care professionals for action, ready to combat a pandemic that did not ultimately materialise. The advances in epidemiology that we enjoy today would have resulted in different responses back then but miscommunication and disinformation mangled the public health response and while not singularly sewing distrust and giving rise to anti-expert and sceptical movements that have plagued societies for decades (possibly also influencing the much more lax response to the AIDS crisis), missteps in execution gave agitators and detractors enough material to line their sophistical quivers and continue with the de-substantiation.

In January of that year, several soldiers stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey came down with a respiratory illness—with one new recruit unfortunately dying whilst trying to power through an endurance test while sick—and authorities including the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation were alerted. Fearful of a repeat of the 1918 Influenza pandemic, a mass-immunisation programme was recommended by an expert panel that included Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin and put into implementation by President Gerald Ford. Practised as they were with developing and manufacturing seasonal flu vaccines, there is always some element of risk and the pharmaceutical companies wanted protection from liability during this rush to roll out millions of doses and refused to produce the immunisation when at first the government withheld indemnity protection. This news, telegraphed to the public, planted a seed of doubt to attribute every medical coincidence and co-morbidity to the novel disease and cure. As happens every year, a small percentage of those vaccinated have adverse reactions, ranging from mild side-effects to death and the scope of the campaign magnified the frequency for the public and press. Hopefully we have drawn some lessons from this incident that better equip us to protect ourselves and one another and filter out the noise that stokes fear and chaos and only further defers our pulling through.


globus polski: an uncanny geopolitical representation 

hollands venetiรซ: revisiting the enchanting village of Giethoorn—previously here and here  

youtube enthusiast: Ruben Bolling (previously) illustrates a day in the life of Trump’s America  

the colour of pomegranates: Lady Gaga’s visual homage to the Armenian filmmarker Sergei Parajanov

kirie: artist Lito experiments with the ancient Japanese art ofๅˆ‡ใ‚Š็ตต, cut pictures  

flattening out: an illustration of how map projections distort our view of the world—see previously

liber pontificalis

Notably the first of the early popes not to be venerated as a saint in the Roman Rite (though fรชted in the Eastern Orthodox Church on 27 August and on 4. Pi Kogi Enavot in the Coptic Church, one of the calendar’s epagomenal, “monthless” days), Liberius (*310 - †366) was Bishop of Rome from May of 352 until this death, on this day. Liberius was the first pontiff to associate the winter solstice—celebrated at the time as Sol Invictus—with Christmas, not only as means of co-opting a popular pagan holiday but also in line with the reasoning that great figures did not live life in fractions of years.  This date was also championed by his predecessor Pope Julius I and penned down in subsequent years.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

corea: the hermit kingdom

This anthology of Korean folktales collected and retold by William Elliot Griffis from Public Domain Review is interesting in its own right for the well-intentioned desire (with notable shortcomings) to bring to a Western readership some of the country’s mythology and lore, but there’s a striking side note as well with earlier publication of the above entitled in 1882, a history of the Joseon dynasty that coined the moniker, applied to isolationist policies in general. Obviously now not new, the term gained traction and currency when invoked by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to describe North Korea.